Thursday, June 17, 2010

Should hour shows qualify for the Best Comedy Emmy?

This is the Emmy screener time of the year, when Academy members get sent DVDs of shows for “our consideration”. In many cases it’s a colossal waste of money and packaging. A few years ago TILL DEATH sent out screeners. Like that had a real chance.

But many of the series are legitimate contenders. And it’s been nice catching up on highly touted new shows I had never seen like THE GOOD WIFE. Although I must be honest and say I open the envelopes and I've never heard of half of these shows.

But there seems to be some question as to what qualifies as a “comedy”. Some contend that that category should be confined to half hour series only while others feel the new breed of lighter hours have as much right to qualify as anything else.

Here’s how I stand on the subject. First of all, when a show bills itself a “dramady” that doesn’t mean it’s both a drama and a comedy, it means it’s neither.

But my criteria for qualifying for Best Comedy is simple: Is the show funny enough? Whether it’s a half-hour or hour, who gives a shit if you're laughing? There were half-hour shows like WONDER YEARS that were lovely little character studies, but they weren’t funny. Meanwhile, a show like GLEE has more laughs than most sitcoms. And is there a funnier actress on TV today than Jane Lynch?

You could also ask the question does the Best Comedy have to be scripted? What about shows like CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM or ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA that rely on some improvisation? Again, if those shows are funnier than standard scripted fare why not recognize them?

I don’t believe there needs to be rules in place. If you don’t think hour shows qualify as comedies then don’t nominate them. And if one becomes a nominee don’t vote for it. But with television looking to push the envelope and develop new forms of comedy it seems to me we need to broaden our thinking when it comes to awards too.

All that said, for my money, the best comedy of this year IS a half hour. MODERN FAMILY. Nothing else comes close whatever the damn format.

23 comments:

amyp3 said...

What do I think is the best comedy out there now?
"Parks and Recreation." FADE OUT. THE END.

Some of my favorite shows of the past fit into the hourlong "are they or aren't they" category. "Moonlighting" was most definitely a comedy. But what about "Northern Exposure"?

Chris L said...

Some of the best current comedies feature documentary-style interview scenes with the characters speaking directly to the camera. I don't remember this being done in a comedy before "The Office". But I would love to know if it WAS done before.

olucy said...

Dramedies have definitely caused a shift in storytelling, one that better mirrors life, both serious and funny.

I like your definition and perspective, because it all comes down to...is it funny? There are hour-long shows that definitely fit the criteria. Recent ones that come to mind (but aren't necessarily Emmy contenders): Ugly Betty, Chuck, Psych, Glee, Pushing Daisies, Ed, The Good Guys.

@Chris L -- I could be wrong, but I think The Office kicked off this recent (and overused and misused) technique of characters speaking to the camera as if they were in a documentary. However, back in the 60s, I remember George Burns doing a comedy with Connie Stevens in which he regularly broke the fourth wall and addressed the audience. But it wasn't docu-style, just George being George.

olucy said...

On a related note for a separate column (or a Friday question): what do you think of the proposal for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to change the rules for both comedy and drama writing categories to be limited to one show per category, rather than submitting individual episodes?

More about that here:
http://www.variety.com/index.asp?layout=Emmy&articleid=VR1118020562&categoryid=4055&cs=1&nid=2853

We're debating the pros and cons over in another forum. In once sense, it does seem unfair that one show can get 4 out of 5 nominations for best writing in drama or comedy. Such as 30 Rock, Mad Men, The Sopranos. On the other hand, allowing only one show per category shafts individual writers who have contributed to the overall success of a show. Despite writers maybe feeling like they're The Invisible Man, there's more awareness among fans than ever these days of showrunners and writers for particular shows or genres. Or maybe there's always been that awareness, but the Internets brings us together in a community we could never share before.

Anyhoo....don't want to derail today's topic because it deserves its own discussion. Just wondered what you thought.

Anonymous said...

The Middle is my favorite new comedy. It's about real America with real problems. Everybody on Modern Family is wealthy and beautiful. Although it's sometimes funny, the fake docu style is really annoying.

Gary said...

MASH did some docu-style shows, and of course, they set the standard. George and Gracie both spoke to the camera, frequently. Jack Benny may have, I don't recall for sure. Certainly, his look to the camera was obviously just that, a statement to the audience.

James Brolin said...

Ricky Gervias' original The Office restarted the trend.

Justin Peterson said...

"Community" and "Parks & Rec" are 1 and 1a, with "Modern Family" a distant 3rd (and by distant, I mean that the two NBC shows have lapped "MF" at least twice).

James said...

Modern Family is ok, but it's mostly 'oh-that's amusing' than laugh out loud. It's also a victim of it's own formula, where every episode has to end with a neat wrap up of all the stories, no matter how pat they come off. Pound for pound, the best new comedy is Community. It's fast, the jokes are layered and smart, and don't wait for the audience to catch up - they think people are smart enough to follow along.

Plus the added bonus of the hotness that is Allison Brie

Sally creeping down the alley said...

I thought Last Comic Standing should've been nominated for best "dramady." I mean c'mon, it's neither dramatic or funny.

And a show like Moonlighting is probably the best example of an hour-long comedy show. Measure the new stuff against that show as a standard and then 30 minute shows are a shoe-in to win the category.

jackscribe said...

Love your coined word "dramity." It is odd to see the Fox mega-hit, GLEE, slid into the comedy category. Perhaps a new category "gayity" should be added? This way most of Bravo's programming could be included, as well as GLEE. This coming, tongue-in-cheek, from a card-carrying gay guy. :o)

fred said...

Nice shout out to Jane Lynch. I knew her way back in 1980/81. In academia she did not get the respect she deserved as an actress. It is great to see her talent recognized now, and by everyone. She really is a talent, and always has been.

WV: fermasc, sounds gender ambiguous... appropriate here?

Ref said...

I remember seeing Jane Lynch in a very small part in "The Fugitive" and wondering why this knockout of a mature woman didn't have more roles. While she's done a lot of comedy and is good at it, she's a very talented actress.

As to comedies, vote for a show that can consistently give you grins you DIDN'T see coming a mile away.

sephim said...

My favourite show at the moment is Breaking Bad, which is definitely a drama, but has always been mentioned in the same sentence as the term "black comedy". My theory is this is because people are laughing otherwise they'd be really fucking depressed by what they're seeing on screen.

I've seen one episode of Modern Family and I get the feeling the "interview" pieces are only there because "well, it worked in The Office". Unfortunately, apart from the gay couple, who were brilliant, it seemed forced and broke up the story and by the time they got back to the "show" part, I had to work hard to get back "into it" or even remember what was happening.

Question Mark said...

It's more of a problem when a dramedy has actors doing different things yet they're competing against each other in the same category. For instance, Breaking Bad's Bob Odenkirk will be competing against that very show's Aaron Paul, Dean Norris and Giancarlo Esposito in the dramatic supporting actor category, except Odenkirk's character is total comic relief while the other three guys are doing largely drama.

Bob Gassel said...

The only show that comes close to "Modern Family" is "Party Down" on Starz...

Nancy Beach said...

Rule of thumb on the Academy screeners for me: the more elaborate (read 'slick') the packaging, the weaker the content. But Ken, am interested to know, did you and many of your ATAS colleagues also take equal advantage of viewing FYC choices on the emmys.tv online distribution platform site? Or do you find you still prefer the dvd's mailed to your home? This year, I found the site provided many more shows than were actually mailed to me. Would highly recommend the 30 for 30 series through ESPN films (for comedy, tragedy, and all categories!) from the emmys site. I also thought Nurse Jackie with Edie Falco from Showtime was a breakout effort this season.

Chalmers said...

"Parks and Recreation" is my favorite show right now, though "Community" is also very funny and might do better Emmy-wise because it had some hilarious episodes that don't require any previous knowledge of the show or characters.

A lot of the "Parks" charm and humor derives from the Pawnee "world" that they've built and maintained meticulously.

An unfamilar Emmy voter who puts in a screener isn't going to get the reference to the evil library folks or the Sweetums stand in the park.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Another vote for THE MIDDLE. I have never found MODERN FAMILY funny. But I also never understood why Tony Shalhoub won all those Emmys as Best Actor in a Comedy. MONK was the saddest "comedy" I ever saw. HOUSE may actually have more laughs.

Charles H. Bryan said...

Modern Family. I don't think it's the only good comedy on television, but it's the only I watch where I can laugh and also appreciate the sappy/sweet/sentimental moments.

They have also avoided 'very special episodes', and for God's sake, they have Fred Willard on every now and then. What's not to love?

Abie the Fish Peddler said...

In response to Chris L: FREE COUNTRY, a Rob Reiner vehicle that ran as a summer replacement show back in 1978, used interviews with Reiner's character as a framing device. However, the flashbacks that made up the bulk of each episode were done in the usual sitcom manner.

WKRP IN CINCINNATI did a memorable episode psuedo-documentary episode, which parodied a then-popular show called REAL PEOPLE.

Kevin Arbouet said...

Modern Family is the William Baldwin to Arrested Development' Alec Baldwin.

It's an unabashed rip off with some funny moments but nowhere near the funniest comedy of the year or any year.

Party Down had a great first season and some nice moments this season but it's been pretty uneven and a lot of the comedy bits you can see a mile away.

Matt Patton said...

I knew that a few shows had tinkered with a "docu" look occasionally. The original British version of THE OFFICE had that style because the creators, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant were parodying the "docu-soaps" that were then all the rage on British TV (BBC America, in the early days, used to show this stuff at about six in the morning--I remember watching several of them as I got dressed for my then-job). In theory, a "docu-soap" was a documentary series chronicling various jobs--but the footage was edited to forge story-lines and play up the more outrageous or appealing people on camera; lots of hand-held digital cameras, lots of interview inserts. Reality edited and fiddled with to make it more interesting.

Speaking of British TV, has anyone ever seen the show GREEN WING? Only two seasons and a special--think of GRAY'S ANATOMY except that most of the characters are raging psychotics, and the style jumps from soap-lite to sketch comedy. There was murder, sexual perversion, crime sprees, tap dancing and more than oncde, someone rode a mortorcycle through the hallways. Being careful to avoid the lady with the camel on a leash . . .